Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be no stranger to the fact that the Earth’s resources are slowly depleting and the use of these in creating energy is harming our environment, so we have to look for alternative ways to produce the energy we need. These include Solar power, hydroelectric power and wind power. The question is, are these methods capable of powering the entire planet?
With a population of 7 billion, we are now burning through 10 times as much energy as we were a century ago, and with an estimated population of 10 billion by 2050 this problem is only likely to get worse. The EIA International Energy Outlook of 2016 reflected the expected growth of global consumption of energy over 28 years from 2012 to 2040 showing a 48% increase in that time. But this doesn’t take into account new energy policies that have not yet been incurred or announced. With one of the largest energy consumers globally (the USA) pulling out of the Paris treaty, we certainly have a challenge ahead.
But things are looking good. Wind power alone produced 2% of global demand for electricity in 2009 and could easily meet 20% by 2050. Europe’s biggest economy, Germany, already gets 25% of its energy from renewable sources and are aiming for this to be 80% by 2050. Spain’s top source of energy in 2013 was wind. Other world leaders in renewable energy include economy giants China, the US, India, the UK and Japan. Similarly, Denmark is aiming to get 100% of its energy for heat and power from renewable sources in the next 18 years, and 70% of all its energy usage in the next four years. Even countries such as the Philippines are already using solar power to create 29% of its energy.
Renewable energy is the fastest growing energy sector in the world. China’s renewable energy sector is growing faster than its fossil fuel and nuclear power capacity alone. It’s solar cell production has increased 100 fold since 2005, and with the 2013 action plan for prevention and control of air-pollution produced by its government, China’s future in alternative energy looks very promising. In 2014 it let the world in the production of wind power and smart grid technologies. It makes as much water, wind and solar energy as France and Germany’s power plants combined, and its rapidly evolving economy makes it well suited to lead in developing alternative energy vehicles. As of 2017, China has a population of nearly 1 .4 billion. This is a huge 19% of the world’s population. If a country with such a huge population and high demand for energy can already achieve 20% of its energy production from alternative sources in just a couple of decades of research and development, then how can we even question whether we could power the planet with renewable energy in the future?
It isn’t just about the capability of alternative energy sources (although this can definitely be expected to improve hugely with further R&D and continuous innovation), but many factors can be taken into account when analysing the ability of alternative energy in powering the planet. The key is to have a mix of alternative energy sources over a wide area. They can be built anywhere with sufficient water, wind or sun and this is easy to implement as costs of production are dropping due to market expansion and innovation. However, as well as the availability of them, it is the public policies in place that will expand or constrain alternative energy development. Policies to maximise energy efficiency mean renewable energy could account for 80% of the global energy supply in just four decades. This is achievable with a small investment of approximately 1% of global GDP per annum. Therefore, if laws are implemented globally to promote renewable energy usage and discourage overuse of energy, this could work.
We need energy for almost everything we do – it’s no secret that the global demand is high and can’t even be met at the moment, never mind in the future, as 1 billion people are already living without proper access to energy. But, with the correct methods applied, we can lower our global demand for energy, even with an increasing population, and we can eventually achieve powering the planet with alternative energy. Lower demands, high-efficiency and more availability of alternative sources is all that is needed.
As the Lorax once said, “Unless, someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. ”
We just need to care, force the changes necessary to lower energy command and moving to alternative energy will work.
Facts from the EIA International Reports